Electoral violence disproportionately affects women worldwide. In fact, a study by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems indicated that women voters face violence at four times the rate of male voters during elections.
To address this issue, NDI has launched a global campaign to counter acts of election violence -- such as threats, hate speech, assault, blackmail or assassination -- that are directed at someone because of her gender and that seek to undermine, delay or otherwise influence an electoral process. The program is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.
Building on NDI’s expertise in domestic election observation and previous work to monitor and mitigate electoral violence, the new initiative will train election observers to recognize and report violence against women so that it can be prevented. A new website will aggregate the incidence of violence prior to, during and after elections around the world. The data will help to create a picture of the changes in electoral violence against women over time. Visualizations and analysis will be used to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of violence against women in elections (VAW-E) and show how it prevents women from participating actively in public life.
“As long as most data on electoral violence remains gender-blind, it is impossible to properly address the problem and bridge the gap in political participation,” said Caroline Hubbard, senior program manager for gender, women and democracy at NDI. “By asking the right questions, we will shed new light on the prevalence of violence against women in elections so that it can be mitigated.”
For the recent election in Nigeria, NDI encouraged its citizen election observation partner, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), to include questions on gender in its pre- and post-election observations. TMG deployed over 900 observers covering each of Nigeria's 774 local government areas to track and report on early warning signs of electoral violence. Between mid-November 2014 and the immediate pre-election period in March 2015, TMG's observer reports showed consistently elevated levels of gender-based hate speech toward women candidates and their supporters in the North East and South East geopolitical zones. TMG observers reported that levels of hate speech in both geopolitical zones were also above the national average based on religion, age, region of origin and disability.
Informal surveys administered to some of the TMG observers in North East and South East in the post-election period suggested that gender-based hate speech was sometimes accompanied by other acts of gender-based violence, including threats of divorce, sexual violence, blackmail or destruction of property. While it remains unclear from the data whether election-related violence disproportionately impacted women, observers surveyed believed that gender-based hate speech in North East and South East discouraged women from participating in the electoral process as candidates, and some of the observers also believed that hate speech discouraged women from voting or serving as polling officials.
“TMG’s work to gather data on gender-based violence is an important example that can be emulated and built upon by other domestic election observation groups in Africa and around the world,” said Sandra Pepera, NDI’s director for gender, women and democracy. “Better information on VAW-E will increase understanding of its impact and help create new strategies to address it.”
In the coming year, NDI will expand the campaign to include Cote d'Ivoire, Burma, Guatemala and a number of other countries.
Published on May 6, 2015